Smithfield Foods—Driven to a Process

When you think about companies that are driven, maximum ability
rather than minimal standards comes to mind. But not always. Some
companies make their dough the old-fashioned way, they cut away all the
humanity, kind of like butchering a hog—until there’s nothing left but
profit.

When you think about companies that are driven, maximum ability
rather than minimal standards comes to mind. But not always. Some
companies make their dough the old-fashioned way, they cut away all the
humanity, kind of like butchering a hog—until there’s nothing left but
profit. 
Smithfieldluter
Joseph W. Luter, III is the Chairman and CEO at Smithfield, grandson of
the founder, contributor of big-bucks to a university department that
will have his name on it and a guy you’re not likely to see in the
Smithfield pig barns.
Smithfieldtriblepope
In front of 500 people gathered in the Ferguson Center for the Arts,
Larry Pope, president of Smithfield, announced a $5 million gift to the
Christopher Newport University from the Smithfield-Luter Foundation –
the largest single donation in university’s history.

“The
first thing that impressed us were the audible gasps from the audience
after the amount was announced, then spontaneous applause and a
standing ovation.”

– Dennis H. Treacy, vice president, environmental and corporate affairs for Smithfield Foods Inc.

Smithfieldgestcrate2
Yeah, those audible gasps always get your attention.
According to Smithfield’s web site,

“Under Mr.
Luter’s leadership, Smithfield Foods has grown to over $11 billion in
annual revenues and has successfully integrated more than 53
acquisitions over the last 24 years to expand the company’s products
both in the U.S. and internationally. The company has also vertically
integrated hog production and processing.”

They’re good at horizontal integration
as well. Gestation pens at Smithfield, those devices designed to
protect pig-mothers for the approximate seven years of their
reproductive lives, are an amazing 2 feet wide and 7 feet long.
Smithfieldgestcrate1
That’s a seven year sentence, sweetheart, courtesy of the friendly folks at Smithfield.
After that, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is the
moms are finally let out; the bad news is that they’re headed for
slaughter. Which, if it were known, might cause additional audible
gasps at Christopher Newport University.
Smithfield is to pigs what abu Graib was to terrorists, and yet
these critters are a threat to no one, destined for a future no more
threatening than shrink-wrap, a  quick saute and a dinner plate.
Quoting from Marc Kaufman’s article in the Washington Post;

“Smithfield
officials denied that pressure from activists or voters had anything to
do with their announcement, but they did say the company was responding
to concerns voiced by customers such as McDonald’s and several
supermarket chains.”

So, if I have this
straight, the profit honchos at Smithfield don’t now (and wouldn’t in
future) give a damn about humane conditions. It’s McDonalds who did it. Let’s hear it for Ronald McDonald.

“While
they defended the use of the crates — which are so narrow that the
animals cannot turn around and some have to lie uncomfortably on their
chests — they said their own research had concluded they could be
replaced by group pens without any long-term problems or cost
increases.”

Smithfieldgestcrate3
How do they defend these horror conditions and then go home to the wife
and kiddies as if it were an ordinary day at the office? ‘Their own
research’ evidently wasn’t enough on its own merits to spring mother
hog from four to seven years unable to turn or move or even lie down
comfortably. Talk about post-partum depression.

“Working
with our customers, who have made their views known on the issue of
gestation stalls, we are pleased to be taking this precedent-setting
step,”
said C. Larry Pope, chief executive officer of Smithfield
Foods. He said all 187 Smithfield-owned pig nurseries would be
converted within 10 years, and contract growers will be eventually expected to move in that direction.

Pleased to be setting precedent, are they? Gonna take ‘em ten years, is it?

“The
decision follows a pattern that has become increasingly common in the
food industry. Groups concerned about issues such as animal welfare or
the use of antibiotics or biotechnology in agriculture no longer look
to government regulators to produce change, but rather take their
concerns to the public, to producers, and to the restaurants and
grocery chains that sell the products.”

Amazing
what a long stretch it is for these corporate types to achieve humane
treatment. One of the definitions of humane is ‘showing evidence of
moral and intellectual advancement.’ You’d think, educated as they are,
they’d be good at that.

In a statement, National Pork Producers Council CEO Neil Dierks said that while his group “respects the right of all producers to make market decisions they believe are in their best interest,” the council considers gestation crates to be appropriate and humane.

“The
American Veterinary Medical Association and other organizations
recognize gestation stalls and group housing systems as appropriate for
providing for the well-being of sows during pregnancy,”
he said. “We
support the right of all producers to choose housing that ensures the
well-being of their animals and that is appropriate for their
operations.”

The National Pork Producers Council and the American Veterinary Medical Association unanimously support the rights of producers—they just don’t give a tinker’s damn for the rights of animals. Nor does

  • Robert L. Burrus, Jr.; Director since 1996. Chairman and
    Partner in the law firm of McGuireWoods LLP, Richmond, VA; Director,
    CSX Corporation, and S&K Famous Brands, Inc.
  • Carol T. Crawford (62); Director since 2000, Distinguished
    Visiting Professor of Law at George Mason University School of Law,
    January 2000 until June 2001; formerly Commissioner of the U.S.
    International Trade Commission, 1991 until 2000, and Assistant Attorney
    General of the United States, 1989 until 1990.
  • Ray A. Goldberg
  • Wendell H. Murphy
  • C. Larry Pope
  • Frank S. Royal, M.D.
  • John T. Schwieters

All of them, current Smithfield Directors.
Let’s get their names out in the open, as one or two of them may be
a neighbor. Nice folks, most all of them in their sixties, sleeping in
feather beds with never a care. In the ten years it will take the
company (of which they are directors) to conform to basic humane procedures, most of them will no doubt have retired to play with their grandkids.
And read them fairy-stories, like The Three Little Pigs.
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